FINALLY – today is the day.
After years of fighting, months of delays, two days of legal argument and a further three weeks of waiting, campaigners and health chiefs will discover who has been victorious in the battle over controversial plans to fluoridate Hampshire tap water.
A High Court judge who last month presided over a landmark judicial review on the scheme, affecting nearly 200,000 residents in and around Southampton, was due to deliver his verdict on the case in London.
Mr Justice Edward Holman heard two days of arguments after the legal challenge was lodged by Southampton mum-of-three Gerri Milner.
Her lawyers believe South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) should not have ignored public opposition to the plans to fluoridate two-thirds of the city, as well as parts of Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.
During a public consultation on the scheme, 72 per cent of respondents living in the affected areas said they were against fluoridation, but the SHA board unanimously gave it the green light, saying they were convinced by the health benefits.
A second string of Ms Milner’s case is that the SHA also failed to properly evaluate some of the arguments lodged against the plans.
Barristers for the SHA, which set aside £400,000 to fight the judicial review, and the Government told the Royal Courts of Justice the decision was legally correct.
Today’s judgement comes almost two years after the SHA board voted to approve fluoridation, becoming the first health body to do so since the law was changed to give them the power to order water companies to add the chemical to supplies.
If the ruling goes against the SHA, it would almost certainly mean the scheme will be scrapped.
But even if the authority wins, there is the chance it may still never happen.
Ms Milner has already hinted she would be prepared to take the case further, and time is running out for the SHA to implement its plans.
The Government has announced all SHAs will be scrapped by spring next year, with powers over fluoride being handed to elected councils.
The leaders of both Southampton City and Hampshire County councils have told the Daily Echo they would ask the government to step in to stop health chiefs imposing fluoridation in the body’s “dying days”.
The project has been on hold since June 2009 because of the judicial review.
Health bosses initially said it would take more than 18 months to finalise the infrastructure needed to put fluoride in the water.
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• See original article for video clips of commentry on the issue and also a brief interview with Conservative Party leader John Cameron:
Reporter: What are your views on adding fluoride to the water?
Cameron: I’ve always taken the view that this is something that should be decided locally. I don’t believe in the compulsory fluoridization of water. The last one I think we voted on, I think I voted against that. But if there is a local process and a local decision that’s seems to be a fair way of doing things.